The experience of going to court can be nerve-racking. The courtroom itself exudes power, authority and judgment on everyone within it, whether you are contesting a speeding ticket or serving jury duty. For children preparing to testify in court, the fear and anxiety of recounting abuse to a room full of strangers and their abuser can be extremely traumatizing. This was the approaching reality that troubled 8-year-old Anthony* as he arrived at the Center for Child Protection’s Court Orientation.

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From the moment the heavy doors opened and Anthony entered the courtroom, his small frame appeared to be crumbling with fear. As his mother gently guided him to a bench in the back, Anthony nervously glanced around the room. The Center for Child Protection staff facilitating Court Orientation kindly welcomed the family and introduced them to the group of Center staff members and volunteers. The facilitator explained to Anthony and his mother that each staff member and volunteer represented a person who would be in the courtroom during trial. Then, each staff member and volunteer introduced themselves and described their unique responsibilities as a juror, court reporter, bailiff and judge. As the facilitator answered his mother’s questions, Anthony squirmed beside her, appearing as if he had something to say, but unable to utter a word.

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A volunteer kindly assured him it is normal to feel scared and that it is important to be honest with your feelings and share them with people you trust. Anthony broke his silence with a sincere voice, explaining that he is going to cry the day he has to share his story. The facilitator assured him that it is perfectly okay to cry, and if needed, he can always ask the judge for a break or for tissues. At those words, Anthony’s trembling body deflated with relief as he smiled and said “okay.” With that burden lifted, he began to actively engage in Court Orientation. His face lit up when he was given a stress ball. The stress ball is a tool that is used to teach children how to breathe deeply and relieve stress. Anthony then decided to bring the stress ball with him to the witness stand so that he could practice answering questions about his favorite pastime, playing baseball. Finally, everyone knew Anthony was feeling much more confident when he ran up to the judge’s seat and surveyed the room with a smile.
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The Center for Child Protection is dedicated to providing a full continuum of services to children and families from the point of interview, through therapy and treatment, to trial and after. As Anthony high-fived his way out of the courtroom that day, his once crippling fears were replaced with the memory of supportive faces. As the day approaches when he has to share his story, he is reassured that he is not alone.
*Names and other identifying circumstances have been changed to protect the privacy of children and families.